Q. I’m a first year Scout and this summer my troop went to Camp La-No-Che in Paisley, Fla. I took the Climbing merit badge and soon realized my tennis shoes were not suitable to scale the climbing wall. I left La-No-Che with a partial completion for that badge. I’d like to buy some climbing shoes before I attempt the climb again. Can you recommend good ones?
–Slippin’ Jacob, Riverview, Fla.
A. Climbing in sneakers definitely makes for a slippery slope. So you do need some climbing shoes if you intend on giving the sport a serious shot.
To help you with some guidelines on how to buy your first pair of climbing shoes, I called up my buddy Kris Versteegen, a spokesman for La Sportiva climbing gear and former head of Inner Peaks Climbing Center in Charlotte, N.C. Here’s his fit advice: “Some longtime climbers will tell you to find a shoe that is so small that your foot barely fits, and then go a half size smaller. This is bogus. In the 1980’s and 90’s, climbing shoes used to stretch a lot, so people sized them down until they were excruciatingly painful in hopes of a ‘custom fit’ when the leather stretched around their feet.
“Today, climbing shoes don’t stretch nearly as much as they used to thanks to innovative lasts, higher-quality leather and high-tech lining materials. So, you can size your shoe so that it’s snug, but not painful. A shoe with to-the-toe lacing can help customize the fit and feel of the shoe, while a slipper or velcro shoe is much easier to get on and off. In a lace-up, all of your toes should be touching the end of the shoe, but they shouldn’t be bent too much. In a slipper or velcro shoe, you can’t cinch down the laces, so size it should fit slightly tighter than a lace-up. Be careful going too small though, you should still be able to walk around without any pain.”
Here are two Gear Guy picks for good all-around shoes designed with beginning climbers in mind: